Ilona Yusuf, “The Mechanics of Hearing”


Covers of The Mechanics of Hearing, a book in two parts: part i on the left, part ii on the right


Book laid flat. top part shows part i with cover and pages iii and iv, bottom shows part ii laid out


Detail, part i


Detail, part ii


Detail showing page 2 and back cover of part i


Artist: Ilona Yusuf (Islamabad, Pakistan)

Title: The Mechanics of Hearing (2012)

Medium/technique(s): collagraph, drypoint, smoke painting and burning, graphite, silk cloth and thread, text

Edition size: unique

Number of pages: Part I, 4 pages; Part II, 5.5 pages

Dimensions, open: Part I, 9.5″ x 43.5″; Part II, 6.5″ x 41.5″


Artist statement:

Although poetry comes naturally to me, visual images have always also been important. Several years ago I began making prints, and this triggered the idea to weave text and image to make artists’ books. My book making skills are self taught, and I use variations on the accordion format.

The Mechanics of Hearing, a unique book-work, was inspired by the image of the three bones instrumental in the process of hearing. It was also closely connected to my response to the way my countrymen think and react to what goes on around them, politically and socially.

The poem is divided into two parts, the first of which expresses the anatomy of perfect hearing, or alert, total response to sound, while the second describes the idea of consciously forgetting how to hear, or ignoring those impulses.

When I began to make the prints, some of which are collagraph and some dry-point images, the book naturally fell into two parts. Since I use silk thread in much of my design work, this has extended to my art work. The background of the first part of the book features torn silk with trailing fragments of silk thread, rubbed with graphite, with superimposed images of sound patterns drawn into smoke painted paper, and a collagraph of the landscape of the ear. The background of the second part of the book features hand-made mulberry paper with tangles of thread over which ink has been rolled, then superimposed with images of scrambled sound patterns.

Like the book, the poem is divided into two parts, and is reproduced below.




the mechanics of hearing






three bones

and a membrane

sandwiched midway along

a concealed tunnel

minuscule bones working

in the harmony

of sequential movement


strike the tympanum

— membrane stretched taut

across a hollow body

to receive a myriad

chromatic inflexions —



past the cone of light

in and out

back and forth

to and fro

the little hammer

pushes waves

past anvil and stirrup


past a forest of fibre swaying

liquid in the labyrinth

of chamber on spiral chamber

—  inland sea sounding

within a shell  —

filtering translating

kaleidoscopes of sound


so that amidst cacophony

a single clear note

cuts through the air


filling it with pure sound




the mechanics of silence


and then there is



a wilful act


to close the ear

to sounds it does not wish

to perceive or hear


to rub away voice


to stiffen the amaranthine flexing

of this assembly of moving parts


to dull the movement of





against the tympanum


that it loses elasticity

that it idles untuned


that it unlearns

the shape of words

the reading of sound

the exercise of speech


that it rubs away voice

that it ossifies in silence